London Event: ‘An American Triumph’: The Inside History of the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary

May 12, 2015 6:00 pm-May 12, 2015 9:00 pm

Lady Manning, Chair of the UK Council, and Richard Wendorf, Director of the American Museum, cordially invite you to a spring lecture and reception in London on Tuesday 12 May 2015, lecture at 6:00 o’clock by Dr Irving Finkel.

Irving Finkel, who will come provided with images and anecdotes, worked as a young and enthusiastic team member on the unique and ‘perfectly extraordinary’ Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, which was born in the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago in 1921.  Its aim was to provide a modern dictionary – analogous to the Oxford English Dictionary – of the Akkadian language, extinct since the second century BC.  This had become known from countless cuneiform tablets that had been excavated since the middle of the nineteenth century and, with bursts of genius (in comparison with which Champollion and the boy Egyptologists are also-rans), deciphered.  The final volume of the dictionary was published, nine decades later, in 2011, and the whole four-foot long production is one of the major triumphs of the humanities.  The bizarre individuals and the obscure problems with which they had to wrestle should be the stuff of bards and blockbusters.  In lieu of that, an attempt will be made to convey the story of this wondrous production of which any American citizen, over there or over here, can be duly proud.

Irving Finkel is the legendary Assistant Keeper in the Department of Western Asiatic Antiquities at the British Museum, where he is responsible for curating, reading, and translating the museum’s collection of 130,000 cuneiform tablets.  In 2014 Finkel’s discovery of a cuneiform tablet that contained a Flood narrative similar to that of the story of Noah’s Ark, described in his book The Ark Before Noah, was widely reported in the news media and his book has become a best-seller.  Finkel is, among his many other accomplishments, an expert on diaries and board games and has published a series of novels for young adults, including The Last Resort Library.

‘I hosted over 1,000 guest lectures while serving as director of the Boston Athenaeum; Irving’s talk on ancient board games was the most popular – and the most mesmerising – lecture I heard.’  Richard Wendorf

Reception to follow.

Venue: The Athenaeum, Waterloo Place, London SW1Y 5ER

Tickets for the lecture and reception are £15
RSVP: or 01225 823010